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Time to bring down the curtain on history

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I recall one Shabbos, walking back from the Lions Shul in Doornfontein to Orchards, when I experienced one of many unusual encounters over thousands of walks to and from the shul. (Perhaps I’ll scribe a journal one day.)

This guy waves to me as I’m briskly walking down Louis Botha Avenue, and I pause and ask, “What’s up?”

With charisma and confidence, he tells me that he has experienced an extraordinary Divine revelation, that he’s a prophet, and his message needs to be heeded. “Will you follow me?” he asked.

My first reaction, facetiously, is to quip that it’s such a coincidence, amazingly just the previous night, I had also been visited by the word of G-d, one that needs to be shared with all humanity. “Will you follow me?” I asked.

In our chat, I explain to him that I’m Jewish (it’s pretty obvious as I’m wearing my Shabbos garb and tzitzit) and I recommended, sincerely, that he try selling his newly discovered truth to other folk, not to Jews, because it would be foolish ‘to try and sell coals to Newcastle’ – meaning that the Jewish people are the doyens of revelation and the word of G-d, and it would be in vain to try to pitch this new “word of G-d” to them in the hope they would adopt it.

I warn him that they’re not the kind to buy into a new religion without thorough examination of its authenticity. I conclude that he would save much heartache and time if he were to focus on the other eight billion humans in the world minus the 15 million Jews in launching his exciting start-up.

This somewhat jovial encounter is only light-hearted in our age of egalitarianism and freedom of life choice. This wasn’t the case for much of Jewish history, when the Jews were told that if they didn’t accept the religion of the land in which they lived, (if lucky, they would be offered the chance to leave and not come back), they would be persecuted and eventually forced to choose either to convert or die. As the late Rabbi Immanuel Schochet put it, they were told, “Either you kiss this [the cross], or this [the sword] kisses you” – or as Al Pacino’s classic line in The Godfather goes, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

But through the course of millennia of unimaginable persecution, to the dismay of the many haters of Israel, the Jewish people refused the offer (sorry Al!) and rather than forsake G-d and religion, went to the stake.

Not to be easily outdone, the forces and currents of history schemed a new strategy to undo the Jews’ grip on their faith. The Jew hadn’t been intimidated and didn’t baulk under threat and persecution, but perhaps that other time-old method of dissolving individual and national identity might succeed. We were thrust into an age of acceptance, freedom, and bountiful offers of opportunity, prominence, and societal embrace. In this complete-integration construct, the Jew would surely blend in and assimilate?

For a short while, it looked as though this seeming irresistible smorgasbord that offered no bounds in lifestyle and a green light to any identity might prove an existential threat to the Jew’s continued adherence to his time-old heritage.

But, yet again, the inseparable bond of the Jew to his faith and G-d proved to be unassailable, and from the full gambit of tantalising choices available to him, the Jew chose his G-d and stood willing to sacrifice any suggested benefit he might otherwise gain.

So, where to now? We’ve faced the furnace time and again, and emerged holding dear to our Yiddishkeit. We were given all the freedom in the world to be anything and anyone, and guess what, we said, “Thanks but we’re already spoken for. We’re G-d’s chosen people, and in spite of all the delights and temptations on offer, we’re not trading anything for Him.”

So, on this Rosh Hashanah 5783, we’ll once again coronate Hashem as we sound the shofar, crowning Him to be our king through our own free will. And we’ll say to Him that it’s time. It’s time to bring down the curtain of history and end the darkness. The challenge of exile has been met, and we’ve succeeded magnificently in our task.

Let the shofar that’s sounded this Rosh Hashanah rather be the one You have long promised us: “And it shall be on that day, the great shofar shall be sounded … and we shall prostrate ourselves to G-d on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim.” (Yeshayahu 27:13)

  • Rav Ilan Herrmann has served as a congregational spiritual leader in South Africa for 25 years. Hes the publisher of Soul Sport magazine, and runs the Soul Workout nonprofit organisation.

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